Each month, Arkansas Money & Politics profiles three professional associations to explore the business, industry, governmental and not-for-profit agencies impacting law, commerce and goodwill across the state. The magazine tells their stories to give readers a better understanding of who they are, where they stand and the positions they are backing.
Association of Arkansas Counties
The Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC) acts as a resource of support and information for county and district officials. All 75 counties in Arkansas are members of the association, and 1,400 officials are represented in the nine organizations that fall under the AAC umbrella.
“We foster relationships across county lines,” says Chris Villines, AAC executive director, “We do everything we can to enable our county officials to learn from each other.”
The AAC incorporates nine associations for county officials like judges, sheriffs, assessors, coroners and collectors. This makes it easy for those in the same positions across counties to meet and talk about common problems and discover solutions.
The AAC is actively fighting against a big issue for every county in Arkansas: funding.
“County government does as much as they possibly can with as little money,” Villines says.
Responsible for replacing failing infrastructure, running jails and keeping up with the people, county officials are stretching budgets as far as they can.
For the most part, the AAC suggests and supports minor tweaks to laws already in place and looks at the practicalities of enforcing proposed laws within counties. There are several major issues that the association has recently been involved in fixing. It was instrumental in passing the increase on the wholesale gas and diesel tax to provide funding for state highways. The association also advocated for the Marketplace Fairness Act.
“We are trying to protect the brick-and-mortar stores of Arkansas by leveling the playing field with people who sell online,” Villines says.
Helping to save storefronts in Arkansas will help bring more into each county’s economy.
The association often looks at what works well in other states and helps create legislation to make things better for county officials. According to Villines, the AAC just helped to pass a majorly transformative act to help improve county 911 systems. The new law will involve a much-needed funding increase as well as a makeover to the system itself. The Arkansas 911 Board will take the place of the Emergency Telephone Services Board. The new board will be in charge of creating guidelines and standards for Arkansas public safety answering points.
While most people know the AAC for its legislative work, it also offers its members great benefits. All 75 counties are enrolled in the workers’compensation program the association offers, and 56 are enrolled in the risk management program that covers general liability, automobiles and property protection.
Education is a big part of the AAC’s mission to serve Arkansas counties. Each association within the AAC has a continuing education program and the association produces materials like the quarterly magazine, procedural manuals and guides for elected officials to easily find laws.
Looking toward the future, Villines says societal changes will drive changes in county government. Elected officials have to remain flexible through these changes, something Villines says they are doing wonderfully.
“Their hearts are in it, and that’s what gives us great hope about the future,” he says.